On the Divine Dudley Dickerson

African American character actor/ comedian Dudley Dickerson (1906-1968) is today best remembered for his comic turns in many Three Stooges shorts, although he appeared in films starring nearly all the great classic comedians from the 1930s through the 1950s. Much like the better remembered Mantan Moreland and Stepin Fetchit, he was almost always cast as janitors, domestics, train porters and other menials who gave surprised, exaggerated reactions to all the lunatic goings on. Years of live performance also gave him singing and dancing skills he was able to contribute to musical numbers.

A native of Chickasha, Oklahoma, Dickerson was drawn to show business when the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus came to his area. Making use of some discarded equipment he developed his acrobatic skills and started his own touring show, the Pin Penny Circus, billing himself as Paddlefoot Dickerson. By the late 1920s he had moved to Los Angeles, where he performed in nightclubs such as Sebastian’s Cotton Club, the Paradise Club, and others.

Dickerson was 28 when he broke into films in a chauffeur role in The Hell Cat (1934) with Robert Armstrong and Ann Sothern.

Classic comedies he appeared in include The Virginia Judge (1935) with Walter C. Kelly; Polo Joe (1936) with Joe E. Brown; Spooky Hooky (1936) with Our Gang; A Day at the Races (1937) and At the Circus (1939) with the Marx Brothers; Way Out West (1937) with Laurel and Hardy; at least a dozen Three Stooges shorts (1938-1956); You’re Next (1940) with Walter Catlett and Monte Collins; His Bridal Fright (1940) with Charley Chase; Social Sea Lions (1940) with Pete Smith; numerous Andy Clyde shorts (1941-1956); a couple of El Brendel shorts; the George S. KaufmanMoss Hart comedies George Washington Slept Here and The Man Who Came to Dinner (both 1942); My Favorite Blonde (1942) with Bob Hope; Groom and Bored (1942) with Johnny Downs; Here Comes Mr. Zerk (1943) with Harry Langdon; Quack Service (1943) with Una Merkel; Off Again, On Again (1945) with Shemp Howard; The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945) with Jack Benny; Dance, Dunce, Dance (1945) with Eddie Foy Jr; several Hugh Herbert shorts; Pardon My Terror (1946) with Gus Schilling; Rolling Down to Reno (1947) with Harry Von Zell; Hectic Honeymoon (1947) with Sterling Holloway; Preston Sturges’s The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend (1949); and Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953). From 1952 through 1955 he was a recurring character on The Amos ‘n’ Andy tv show.

Compared with many of his contemporaries, Dickerson only appeared in a relative handful of “all black” pictures. They included The Green Pastures (1936) with Rex Ingram, Oscar Polk, and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson; Cow Cow Boogie (1942) and Moo Cow Boogie (1943), both musical shorts with Dorothy Dandridge; and Fuzzy Wuzzy (1946) with Una Mae Carlisle. 

Dickerson had supporting roles in musicals like Gold Diggers of 1937; and Shall We Dance? (1937) with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; as well as classics like Gentleman Jim (1943) and It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947). He appeared in many B movies, like films in the Boston Blackie, Lone Wolf, Torchy Blaine and Tarzan series. He also did fewer flat out horror films than you might imagine, although a couple of key ones nearly book end his career. His third film was The Invisible Ray (1936) with Boris Karloff; his last one was The Alligator People (1959).

For much more data and info on Dickerson’s life see this obsessively researched article here.

To learn more about show biz history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on silent era film please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.